8 November 2012

North Africa: Experts Debate Best Path for Countries Transitioning to Democracy

Oslo — An international conference on democratic reform - entitled "The Political Economy of Transitions - Analysis for Change" - will bring together policy-makers from high-profile transition countries such as Myanmar, Egypt and Tunisia and experts from large democracies like Brazil and Indonesia today in Oslo, Norway.

The event - organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Norwegian Peace-building Resource Centre (NOREF) - will be attended by academics, policy and decision-makers from multiple transition and post-transition countries who will discuss how to navigate democratic reform for lasting, positive change in countries where democracy is a new system of governance.

"Democratic transitions are opportunities for people to innovate and re-shape their societies for the better," said Heba El-Kholy, Director of UNDP's Oslo Governance Centre. "The way institutions handle competition for power and economic resources, the way citizen's needs and aspirations are channelled and met - these are critical factors for lasting democratic transition," added El-Kholy, emphasizing that in countries where inclusive political institutions and economic institutions co-exist, economic disparity tapers off and populations are more likely to prosper in such conditions.

Myanmar, Egypt and Tunisia have joined the growing number of nations engaged in democratic transition over the past 25 years. Whether sparked by the "Arab Spring" or by another kind of civilian-driven reform movement, the paths such nations have pursued have been far from linear or identical, each with their own distinctive struggle or outcome. In some cases, change has occured in a peaceful manner; in others, powerful military regimes, internal conflict or conflicting political agendas have stifled the transition process.

Based on research collected from various sectors - including the academic, political, military and civil society sectors of countries having experienced democratic transition - experts will discuss what has worked and what has not in terms of advancing inclusive, equitable and sustainable progress in the context of transitioning economies.

At large, inclusive political and economic policies which tackle power imbalances, skewed incentive structures and improve access to resources pave a smoother way towards democracy.

The policymakers from Myanmar, Egypt and Tunisia will examine past experiences with democratic transition:

For example, in Brazil, a former dictatorship once rife with inequality, huge progress has been made in terms of citizen participation in budgeting and national planning since the adoption of a new constitution in 1988, resulting in lower economic disparity.

Likewise in Chile, after almost seventeen years of military dictatorship, the ruling center-left coalition in Chile led a successful transitional process to democracy, brokering important bipartisan agreements on key economic and governance issues.

"Inclusive and sustainable democratic transition needs a new social contract between a government and the people," says Olav Kjørven, UN Assistant Secretary General and Director of UNDP's Bureau for Development Policy.

"This is what countries such as Myanmar, Egypt and Tunisia are now exploring, with the support of countries who have walked the same path before them. We hope this forum on the political economy of transition here in Oslo can further foster such dialogue."

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